George A. Romero, Creator of the Modern Zombie, Movie Dies at 77
George A. Romero, legendary horror director and creator of the Night of the Living Dead series of films, passed away on Sunday, July 17, 2017. He was 77 years old. According to The Los Angeles Times, Romero passed in his sleep while listening to the score from 1953’s The Quiet Man, his favorite film. He had his wife and daughter at his side. A statement said Romero died after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.”
Romero grew up in The Bronx in New York City, and got a degree from Carnegie Melon University’s College of Fine Arts. He was a master of horror. While most people know him for the Living Dead series, he directed The Crazies, Monkey Shines, and Season of the Witch (not the third Halloween movie). He also collaborated with Stephen King multiple times, most notably for Creepshow, King’s screenwriting debut. A tribute to old horror comics of the 1950s, the darkly comedic anthology became a cult favorite of horror fans everywhere.
With his first film, Night of the Living Dead, Romero created the modern zombie movie without intending to. The word “zombie” was never used in the film, and there was no explanation of where the undead monsters came from. Before Romero, zombies were undead slaves, being controlled by someone else. Romero turned them into the decaying, cannibalistic corpses we know today. Romero did more than make disposable horror flicks. His zombie movies always had a point. Romero liked to say he used zombies to make some political point about the world. Night of the Living Dead explored racial prejudice. Dawn of the Dead satirized materialism. One of his more recent films, Land of the Dead used the zombie apocalypse to explore class struggle.
That’s one of the reasons he declined to direct an episode of The Walking Dead. He saw the show as “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally.” The zombies in the series, he claimed, were lacking in criticism, and therefore he wasn’t interested. He also stated that he always tried to include identifying features in his zombies of the people they used to be. He thought that reminder of their former humanity was important. He didn’t see that in a lot of modern zombie media.
Romero was also one of the first horror directors to effectively use gore juxtaposed with mundane everyday settings to produce big scares. That alone inspired countless directors including John Carpenter and Wes Craven. The horror genre wouldn’t be where it is today without him. We will get one more movie from Romero. Mitt Birman is directing Road of the Dead, which he co-wrote with Romero. That movie, concerning zombie prisoners that race each other for the entertainment of the wealthy, is set to be released next year.
George A. Romero proved that horror movies could have great scares and a message. He will be sorely missed in the horror community. Rest in peace, Mr. Romero, and thank you for scaring the absolute hell out of us all these years.
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July 16, 2017 at 09:07PM